Short Takes: The Kindergarten Teacher

(Nadav Lapid, Israel, 2014)

In Nadav Lapid’s fascinating and original third feature, the actress nanny of a child prodigy jokes about his precocious, yearning love poems: the boy sounds more like a 40-year-old spinster than the 5-year-old kid he is. She says this to Yoav’s forty-ish titular teacher, Nira (willowy Sarit Larry), who has become fixated on the gifted boy (Avi Schnaidman). Nira is something of a spinster herself artistically speaking, dabbling in a poetry class without distinction, and she grows obsessed with the mystery of Yoav’s inspiration—which, indelibly, occurs each time with his announcing “I have a poem” and then pacing and dictating.

Not that Nira wants to replicate Yoav’s achievement—she views herself as his amanuensis and, more troublingly, as his protector. Instead of a familiar drama about a self-destructing boy genius or fervid artists and muses, Lapid tells a quiet story driven somewhat mysteriously by Nira’s devotion to Yoav’s poetry, with her notion of corrupt modernity bearing echoes of the radicalism in his previous film, Policeman (11). That she’s a married mother of two herself further suggests how far gone she is.

In rendering Nira and Yoav’s urban world, Lapid and DP Shai Goldman create compositions that are at once incisive and enigmatic, often shooting at a child’s eye level and showing both old-soul wisdom and endearing worry in Schnaidman’s terrific face. But rather than just depict human oddity, Lapid’s film leaves us with the insights of an essay on art.